I Believe That We Can

Hi friends! As we get closer to the election, I thought it was important to name the political tension, but also hold in light the fact that everyone is in different places right now. Back in 2016, I thought preaching through that election was the hardest thing I’ve ever done, but that doesn’t hold a candle to the tension we feel today. It is SO hard. But I believe God is in the business of doing hard things! So we can do this – together.

Enjoy …

***

Sarah Weaver
Rehoboth Congregational Church
Rehoboth, MA
October 11, 2020

Philippians 4:1-9

I Believe That We Can

I used to be a very predictable Saturday night sermon writer.  For better or for worse, people knew, that if they drove past the church at any given point on a Saturday evening, my car would be parked right outside the office door and I would be inside trying to decide what the next day’s message would be.

I know this approach made some people in the church nervous, although I always said Saturday night was better than Sunday morning.  But the thing is – I want to be a relevant preacher.  I want to share a message on a Sunday morning that is made for that moment in time, for the specific congregation I am speaking to.  And so very often I draw on thoughts and experiences that I have later in the week – sometimes even Saturday night – in my reflection of the Sunday morning scripture so that message is most relevant to that moment.

My preferred method of sermon writing is a little problematic right now.  First of all, I have small children and so sleep on a Saturday night is not necessarily a guarantee at this stage of my life, let alone a solid and quiet block of time where I can sit down and write.  Second of all, we are in the middle of a political climate and an election season that is tumultuous and, quite frankly, just awful.  So relevant preaching is complicated.

When it comes to talking about politics, I have, at various points in time throughout my ministry, been accused of saying too much, reprimanded for not saying enough and praised for attempting to remain neutral.  These are very often three different responses to the exact same thing, which has kind of taught me two things:  1. I will never please everyone – that is just not possible.  2. People are in very different places when it comes, not only to what they believe, but also what they want out of their church experience.  Some people want to come to church and talk about political issues and how they relate to their faith and some people just want a safe space where they come and a take a break from the political climate of the world.

To be clear, I do not think either desire or longing is wrong – but it does make it challenging to preach in a way that is meaningful, relevant and accessible to everyone; it makes doing church really hard in this particular moment in time.

But I always remind myself that God is in the business of doing hard things.

I say this as a way of, like Bill and Wendy Cute said when they led prayers the day after the presidential debate two weeks ago, naming the political elephant in the room.  The political climate of our country is on everyone’s hearts and minds right now.  And so just know that I am wrestling with these issues as much as you all are right now.  In many ways, it hurts to see where we are and wonder how we got here.  But I believe, as people of faith and members of this beloved church in the village who stand on various places of the political spectrum, that we can do the hard work that is required to come together and proclaim a message of love and unity despite the seemingly impossible circumstance of the world we are living in.  I believe that we can find common ground and have hard, but necessary conversations with kindness and civility.  I believe that we can, like Paul says when we talks about Euodia and Syntyche (two women within the Philippian church experiencing some sort of dispute, though we do not know what, exactly), “be of the same mind in the Lord.”  I believe that we can be informed by our faith and by scripture, as Paul eludes to at the end of this passage, and allow God’s peace to dwell within us.  Though I am not entirely sure how it will work, I believe that we can speak a relevant message of hope amidst our own diversity within this political climate.

Yes we can.  I believe that we can.

So let’s talk about this morning’s scripture reading.

We are coming to the end of Paul’s letter to the Philippians.  If you remember from previous weeks, Paul is writing this letter from prison; he is writing to a church he founded that he loves very much.  Despite the uncertainty of the circumstances in his own life, he has so much hope for this church in Philippi.

Paul’s words actually bring me a lot of hope right now.  Because if he believes God can do hard things and bring unity to this church in Philippi during a time of chaos and confusion, I believe God can and will do the same thing for us during these unparalleled times.

I was really struck by Paul’s words this week in verses six and seven of this passage:

Do not worry about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God.  And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.[1]

I do not think Paul said these words lightly and I do not read them lightly today.  The thing is, it is really hard not to worry about things right now.  It is really hard to “let your requests be made known to God” – to just give it to God and then let go of it.  It is really hard to just “be in the same mind in the Lord” – I mean, who knows what Euodia and Syntyche were disagreeing about, but if it was half as complicated as the political issues that surround us right now, then we know it could not have been as simple as just agreeing to disagree.  It is really hard to trust that God’s peace will “guard your hearts and minds” amidst this painful and stressful turmoil that surrounds us.

But the other option is to be consumed by the pain and the stress and the turmoil and that is not something that I want for any of us.  Because our faith offers us a promise of something more, something better.  In creation, God made order out of chaos.  Through Christ, God brought light into the darkness.  And so yes, things are hard right now, but that does not mean God has abandoned us, that just means that we have to work that much harder to not only believe in God’s promises, but also to proclaim the Good News that Jesus taught.

I want to offer you two words of encouragement in this scripture.  The first comes from verse four:

Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, Rejoice.[2]

The Passion Translation, which is a translation of the New Testament, Psalms, Proverbs and Song of Songs, translates this passage the following way:

Be cheerful with joyous celebration in every season of life.  Let joy overflow, for you are united with the Anointed One![3]

This is not easy to do amidst the pandemic, the political climate or anything else that has come our way this year.  It is hard to be cheerful when there is so much disappointment, uncertainty and anxiety all around.  But I want to remind you that Paul is writing these words from prison; he is in a season of his life where he is being persecuted because of his faith and yet he is standing firm in that faith and rejoicing in the God of creating, redeeming and sustaining grace.

I implore all of us to do the same.

The second word of encouragement comes from verse eight:

Finally, beloved, whatever is true, what is honourable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is pleasing, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence and if there is anything worth of praise, think about these things.[4]

Let’s look at how this is translated in the Passion translation:

So keep your thoughts continually fixed on all that is authentic and real, honorable and admirable, beautiful and respectful, pure and holy, merciful and kind.  And fasten your thoughts on every glorious work of God, praising him always.[5]

In other words, the way we live our lives matters, now more than ever.  We need to think about how our words affect others, the consequences of our actions and how we will glorify God.  We have to be kind and show mercy and live our lives with honor and truth.

And here’s the thing – I do not have any easy answers or a clear timeline of when things will get better.  But I believe that God is with us.  I believe, like Paul says in this passage, that, “the Lord is near.”  I believe that we can cast our worries on God, because God has planted us firmly within the foundation of this faith which cannot be shaken and which will carry us safely to the other side.

So today I invite you to remember our two pieces of encouragement from this scripture.  First of all, rejoice in the Lord always!  Celebrate this season of life, as challenging as it is.  And second of all, put the Gospel into motion in your thoughts, in your words and in your actions.

And then I believe that we can have difficult and challenging conversations.  I believe that we can find unity.  I believe that we can overcome starkly contrasted differences.  I believe that we can feel God’s peace during the tumultuous times.  I believe that we can do hard things.  I believe, like Paul says, “the God of peace will be with you.”

My beloved friends – I believe that we can.

Thanks be to God!
Amen.

[1] Philippians 4:6-7, NRSV
[2] Philippians 4:4, NRSV
[3] Philippians 4:4, TPT
[4] Philippian 4:8, NRSV
[5] Philippians 4:8, TPT

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We Can Know Christ And The Power Of His Resurrection

Hi friends!

It definitely felt strange to be preparing the altar for World Communion Sunday knowing that people would only see it through our livestream, but also powerful knowing that everyone was preparing their own tables at home.  We continued through Paul’s letter to the Philippians in our service and talked about what it means to know Christ and the power of his resurrection and how we can continue to do this during these unprecedented times.

Enjoy …

***

Sarah Weaver
Rehoboth Congregational Church
Rehoboth, MA
October 4, 2020

Philippians 3:4b-14

We Can Know Christ And The Power Of His Resurrection

I have, like I am guessing many of you all have, as well, been on information overload this week.

Between the chaos of the presidential debate, reports of fires continuing to rage out west and, of course, news of the President and First Lady’s covid diagnoses overnight Thursday in Friday, I have to admit, I sat down to write my sermon and found myself a little at a loss of words.  In fact, my sister texted me on Friday morning and asked what I thought of everything and my response was, “I didn’t realize Hope Hicks was younger than me,” because that was about all I could process at that point.

For better or for worse, I had to make a conscious decision to step away from the news at various points throughout the week.  I spent time with my family, painted the trim in my living room and poured myself into my work, finalizing the stewardship packets, putting together a timeline for the bazaar and filming a video with Harrison for this week’s Church School lesson about World Communion Sunday.

I do think that, to some extent, sometimes it is okay to be a little uninformed for the sake of your mental health.  The time I spent away from the news and social media this week was restorative for me; it allowed me to come back and process things with a clearer mind and a stronger heart.  In fact, it allowed me to lead prayers on Friday evening and be a little more politically candid than I usually am, addressing the President and First Lady’s covid diagnoses and my complex feelings on the matter.

My time away from the news, however restorative it was, did not change the fact that we are living in tumultuous times.  Chaos surrounds us pretty much constantly.  We are very unclear about what the future holds, both short term and long term.  So much has been taken away from us.

And yet, I found hope in this passage.  Because as I read Paul’s words, “I want to know Christ and the power of his resurrection,” I realized that this is something that cannot be taken away from us.

Nothing can take away our ability to know Christ and the power of his resurrection.  Not the pandemic.  Not political divisiveness.  Not the ramifications of having our top political leaders diagnosed with covid-19.  Not blazing wildfires or the evils of systemic racism or the complicated task it has been to re-open schools.

In the midst of the chaos of this current world, we can still know Christ and the power of his resurrection.  This cannot and will not be taken from us.

And I believe this is something that can change the trajectory of where we are and where we are going.  Knowing Christ and the power of his resurrection is something that can make order out of the chaos of the world.  Knowing Christ and the power of his resurrection is something that can transform hearts and minds and can bring much-needed reconciliation to this world.  Knowing Christ and the power of his resurrection is something that can proclaim the radical truth of love and justice and can offer hope – real hope – to a world that is so broken right now.

I, too, want to know Christ and the power of his resurrection, because, these days, this is the only thing that reassures me that this is all going to be okay.  These days knowing Christ and the power of his resurrection is the only thing that gives me hope that we will find ourselves on the other side of the pain and confusion and anxiety we are feeling right now.

Now more than ever, we – we as individuals and we as a community of faith – need to know Christ and the power of his resurrection.  And we need to let this truth and this promise and this love guide our words, our actions and the hope we hold onto.

When we first “shut down” back in March (and I use the phrase “shut down” pretty loosely, because we all know we closed our building, not our church), I was not really concerned about the spiritual health of our church, because one of the important components of it – the ability to hear and reflect on scripture and then pray together – was something that we could very easily bring online.  The transition was seamless (mostly).  Despite the fact that we could not physically be together, we still had ways – through our livestreams on Facebook, our worship videos later uploaded to YouTube and physically mailing copies of the week’s scripture, sermon and prayer to people without access to services online – to immerse ourselves in the words of scripture and then think about what they mean in our lives today.

We have seen this over and over again in our nightly prayer meetings as members of our own community – with no formal theological training – have logged onto Facebook, pressed “go live” and offered beautiful and powerful and meaningful reflections on scripture and their faith.  We have, amidst very challenging circumstances, used scripture and prayer to get to know Christ on a deeper level and strengthen our faith.

Here’s the thing – there are a lot of things that we cannot plan for right now.  Too much is outside of our control; much has been taken from us and more might still be taken from us in the future.

But no one can take away our ability to know Christ and the power of his resurrection.  No one can take away the journey of faith that lies in front of us and our ability to take the first step on that journey.

I really like what Paul says at the end of this passage, “Beloved … this one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead.”  These words remind me that there is only one way to go right now and that is forward.  In times such as these, we have no choice but to forge ahead.  And, you know what?  We can forge ahead with hope or we can do so despondent and miserable, but I, for one, think hope will carry us a lot further than any other alternative will.

We have to look forward.

As Christians, we have to look forward to the hope in resurrection and what that means for our lives here, on earth.  We have to believe that this is not how our story ends; not with a pandemic and injustice and political divisiveness, but with healing, justice and unity.  We have to believe that the chaos of the current world is only a part of our history; one that we will certainly learn from and that will shape our future, but also one that we will emerge from stronger and with a deeper understanding of who Christ is and what his resurrection means.

Paul says that “[he presses] on towards the goal for the prize of the heavenly call of God in Christ Jesus.”  I do think that right now we have to ask ourselves, what is our goal?  As Christians, what do we hope to accomplish during this time?  When we look back on this moment in our history, in this poignant chapter of our faith that we are writing in this generation, what do we want to see?

Friends, to know Christ is to understand a faith that is radical and transformative enough to overcome the chaos of the current world.  And this is something that we can control; this is something we can do, despite any kind of social distancing or quarantine measures that are and might be put into place.  Nothing and no one can take away our ability to read and reflect on scripture, pray, offer support to our siblings in Christ and deepen our faith.

This is an opportunity; an opportunity for us to make a commitment to get to know Christ.  This is an opportunity to walk away from the distractions of the material world and really focus on clothing yourself in the Gospel and walking in the light of God.  This is an opportunity to begin to understand what resurrection means and why it is so life changing and what it can do for us, as the Body of Christ – the Church – as we seek to share it with a world that so desperately needs hope and healing right now.

May we all seek to know Christ and the power of his resurrection.

And through the turmoil of our current world, may this knowledge help us shine light, demonstrate love and uncover grace in the most unexpected ways and places.

Thanks be to God!
Amen.

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The Hard Work Of Imitating Christ

Hi friends!

Where in the world did September go?  I feel like we where just preparing for our first ever Drive-Thru Communion and now here we are, at the end of the month.  It’s crazy to me how, even during covid, this is still a really busy time at church!  We are gearing up for stewardship season, some kind of virtual bazaar (which is happening in different pieces/ways), a Candy Crawl in lieu of Trunk or Treat and an adapted Homeless Awareness Weekend.  Check out our website for more information!

We continued in Philippians this morning.  A wonderful letter of love and hope!

Enjoy …

***

Sarah Weaver
Rehoboth Congregational Church
Rehoboth, MA
September 27, 2020

Philippians 2:1-13

The Hard Work Of Imitating Christ

Do y’all remember – I think it was around 25 years ago – there was a movement that, I believe, started with cloth bracelets and eventually was branded on everything:  WWJD – What Would Jesus Do?  The movement started in a very grassroots way, but took off and was really popular, at one point; it was a way to remind the wearer of the bracelet that they should act in a way that personifies Jesus (throughout the day and when faced with a situation, ask yourself the question, “What would Jesus do?”)

Out of curiosity, I did a little bit of research on the origins of the WWJD movement this week and, as it turns out, this phrase was first used in the 1890s by a Baptist preacher named Charles Spurgeon.  In a sermon in 1891, he repeatedly used this phrase, “What would Jesus do?” in quotation marks.  However, this concept apparently goes back even further than this, because in this sermon, Charles Spurgeon was referencing a book written in the 1400s by Thomas á Kempis.  The book was written in Latin; it was called Imitatio Christi, which means, “the imitation of Christ.”

And the reason I went down a giant rabbit hole of research about a movement from the 90s this week is because this week’s scripture reading talks about imitating Christ, which is, ultimately, where this movement came from.

I like this movement for several reasons.  First of all, it is simple, it is easy to remember and so it is great for kids and it is just something that can always be in the back of your head.  Second of all, it started (at least the 90s version of it) as something people wore; and so it was literally something people were putting on their bodies as both a reminder to themselves throughout the day of how they wanted to live, but also a declaration to others that they were seeking to imitate Christ and demonstrate the Gospel in their own lives.  It is kind of like wearing a cross; it is a visual representation of your faith.  Finally, I love what this movement represents – a very simple and apostolic way of being Christian.

Because this is exactly what Paul is talking about in this morning’s scripture reading from his letter to the Philippians.

We know from last week’s introduction to the Book of Philippians that Philippi was a Roman colony in Macedonia; Paul founded a church there and regarded the members of this church with great love and affection.  He was writing this letter from prison; and so, in a way, his words carry so much more meaning because he was not writing from a position of freedom and power, but from a position of struggle and imprisonment.  Paul’s faith was the problem in the world he was living in; preaching the Gospel was what put him in prison in the first place.  Imitating Christ was not necessarily something that came easy in the position he was in; in fact, it created more difficulties for him.

Granted, we are not living in a time where we are persecuted for our faith, but we are living through challenging times; there are many struggles to be had right now.  And so I think it is important to remember that when Paul talks about imitating Christ, he is not saying it is going to be easy.  In fact, he knows it is going to be really, really hard.

And so we know today that imitating Christ – that answering that question, “what would Jesus do?” is not easy.

It requires a lot of us.

Paul says at the beginning of this chapter:

Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility regard others as better than yourselves.  Let each of you look not to your own interests, but to the interests of others.[1]

Friends, these are words that need to be embodied and emboldened now.  These are words that we need to take personally and seriously as we seek to live the way that Christ lived, as we seek to share the Gospel and bring light and love to a world that is hurting.  These are words that challenge us to see a world beyond the one that we are living in; to humble ourselves at the cross and to realize that this is not just about us.  These are words that force us to look in the mirror and see not only the reflection staring back at us, but also how that reflection is different from the person God is calling us to be, how that reflection is different from the person we would be if we truly sought to imitate Christ in our lives.

Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit.[2]

In other words, think about others before you think about yourself.  Put the needs of others before your own.  Do not be selfish in what you take from others, but generous in what you give to others.

But in humility regard others as better than yourselves.[3]

Humility is a really hard thing.  It is something that causes us to think about and admit the times when we are wrong and when we fall short.  It is something that exposes our human imperfections.  It is something that pushes us outside of our comfort zones.  It is something that sends us crashing off of the pedestals we work so hard to climb up on.

And yet, when we do this – when we, “in humility regard others as better than [our]selves,” we begin the work of reconciliation that this world so desperately needs.

Let each of you look not to your own interests, but to the interests of others.[4]

This one is so hard, because – especially now – it is so tempting to look inward and make sure you have what you need before you start helping others.  But I think it is important to point out that this is not an either/or thing.  There is actually really good manuscript evidence that the original text of this letter includes the word that we would translate in English to mean, “also”.  Going off of this evidence, this means this verse – let each of you look not to your own interests, but to the interests of others – actually says, “Let each of you look not to your own interests, but also to the interests of others.”

Because we can help others without sacrificing ourselves.  We can make sure people have what they need and are valued the way they should be without it taking away from our basic needs.  This is not an either/or, this is an all of us together, as the Body of Christ, taking care of one another because this is what Jesus did and this is what Jesus called his followers to do, as well.

This is not easy.  Because, in the end, we are human.  We are imperfect.  We have a tendency to think we are right about things.  We have a hard time accepting the way someone else sees the world and therefore things like gender, race and sexuality are stumbling blocks for us.  It is hard for us to imitate Christ because, let’s face it, he set a really good example.

The second part of this passage is a song of Christ; it is a beautiful expression of who Jesus was, both human and divine, a man who walked this earth, but also was exalted in heaven, who took the form of a slave, but was highly exalted by God.

And so we know, of course, that we will not be able to replicate Christ; that’s not the point.  The point is that we are called to imitate him.  To live our lives in a way that is a reflection of his life and this Gospel he so boldly proclaimed.

And this is hard; this is really, really hard.  On the one hand, our world does not really lend itself to easily imitate Christ.  But on the other hand, this is when the imitation of Christ is needed the most.

Friends, it is time.  It is time to be encouraged by the Gospel to come together with the same love and let our lives – both our individual lives and our life as a community and a church family – be a true and radical and bold reflection of Christ.  It is time to imitate Jesus in our lives in a way that humbles us and helps us meet the needs of others.  It is time to let go of some of our own selfish desires – as hard as that is to do during these tumultuous times – and find ways to ensure that the interests of all people are met – ours, but also others.

There has never been a time like this in our lifetime where it has been more necessary to heed the words of Paul, where it has been more critical to imitate Christ; to constantly be asking ourselves this question, “What would Jesus do?”

And so I encourage you all this morning to challenge yourself.  To live your life as a reflection of the Gospel.  To honor one another as children of God.  To shine God’s light into the world so that others will see the glory of God’s grace and the lifechanging truth that God’s love always wins.

To imitate Christ so that we can continue to tell this story.

Thanks be to God!
Amen.

[1] Philippians 2:3-4, NRSV
[2] Philippians 2:3, NRSV
[3] Philippians 3:4, NRSV
[4] Philippians 2:4, NRSV

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